Hiking,  History,  Illinois,  Indiana,  Michigan,  Minnesota,  Missouri,  National Parks,  South Dakota

15 Must-See Midwest National Park Sites

When most people think of National Parks, they often think of the famous sites like Yellowstone, Yosemite, or the Grand Canyon. While those parks out west are truly amazing, the Midwest is also home to its own stunning National Park sites. From rugged mountains to rolling prairies and unique history, the Midwest has something for every park enthusiast. In this blog post, we’ll highlight some of our must-see Midwest National Park sites to add to your family travel bucket list.

Apostle Islands National Lakeshore Trail

1. Apostle Islands National Lakeshore – Wisconsin

The Apostle Islands are a must-see Midwest National Park site located in far northern Wisconsin along Lake Superior. This National Lakeshore preserves 21 different islands, historic lighthouses, and unique cliff formations. The area is kayakers dream with stunning sea cliffs and caves to explore. Other ways to explore the lakeshore include hiking the Lakeshore Trail, taking a boat tour, or spending time on Meyers Beach.

Badlands National Park sunset must see Midwest National Park site

2. Badlands National Park – South Dakota

One visit to Badlands National Park and you will wonder if you have journeyed to another planet. The combination of prairie landscapes and ruggedly unique rock formations make this park a must visit destination. The Notch Trail involves a brief climb up a steep ladder, but it’s worth it for the amazing views. Kids will love the easy Wall, Door, and Fossil Trails or seeing the prairie dog town. Don’t miss watching the sunrise at the Big Badlands Overlook and Panorama Point or see the sun go down at the Pinnacles Overlook. The Badlands are definitely a must-see Midwest National Park.

Gateway Arch National Park

3. Gateway Arch National Park – Missouri

It may be one of the smallest national parks, but Gateway Arch National Park is also home to the nation’s tallest monument. The park is well worth a stop to walk more than 5 miles of pathways and visit the extensive history museum under the arch. While the grounds and the museum are free, it’s worth the extra fee to ride the tram on a journey to the top of the arch for a birds-eye view. (Recommended to buy tickets online in advance.)

George Washington Carver National Monument

4. George Washington Carver National Monument – Missouri

George Washington Carver National Monument is a hidden gem near Joplin, Missouri. This park preserves the childhood home site of the famous scientist and artist. It was also the first national monument dedicated to an African American. The grounds include a peaceful walking trail with points of interest and a three story museum. Kids will love the Discovery area with interactive exhibits including the dozens of inventions and food items Carver created using peanuts. This site is definitely a must-see Midwest National Park site.

Grand Portage National Monument

5. Grand Portage National Monument – Minnesota

Located in far northern Minnesota, Grand Portage National Monument is filled with natural and cultural history. This site was located along an important fur trade route and preserves the history of the Anishinaabe people and the early trade and colonization of the area. All ages will enjoy the reconstructed North West Company buildings, the elaborate museum, and the living history interpreters. The site also offers several hiking trail options and views of Lake Superior.

Indiana Dunes Dunes Succession Trail must see Midwest National Park site

6. Indiana Dunes National Park – Indiana

Indiana Dunes National Park preserves over 15,000 acres along the Lake Michigan shoreline of northern Indiana. This beautiful park features a diverse ecosystem and more than 50 miles of trails. The park features several beaches with West Beach offering the most amenities for families. We recommended hiking the Dunes Succession Trail, the Chelberg Farm Loop, and viewing the Century of Progress homes.

Lincoln Home National Historic Site

7. Lincoln Home National Historic Site – Illinois

Lincoln Home National Historic Site preserves the Springfield, Illinois home and related historic district where Abraham Lincoln lived from 1844 to 1861. This was the only home he owned before becoming the 16th president of the United States. The neighborhood includes the chance to tour Lincoln’s home as well as explore several other exhibits throughout the preserved four block area.

Mount Rushmore must see Midwest National Park site

8. Mount Rushmore National Memorial – South Dakota

Mount Rushmore is an iconic sculpture bringing history to life in the scenic Black Hills of South Dakota. Be sure to take the Presidential Trail for a closer view of the sculptured faces and learn about their creation in the Sculptor’s Studio and Visitor Center. The park site also offers a nice museum, gift shop, and even an ice cream parlor.

Ozark Scenic Riverways must see Midwest National Park site

9. Ozark Scenic Riverways – Missouri

The Ozark Scenic Riverways were the first National Park site created to preserve a river system. The crystal clear and spring-fed Current and Jack’s Fork River systems are part of the Scenic Riverways. The park features scenic rivers, turquoise blue natural springs, historic mills, and miles of hiking trails. The rivers are very popular spots for float trips with numerous outfitters in the area. This is one of our favorite areas in the Midwest to visit due to the stunning natural beauty.

Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore must see Midwest National Park site

10. Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore – Michigan

Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore is a stunning and remote place to visit in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula. This park site features beautiful waterfalls, rugged rock and cliff formations, and miles of trails. Don’t miss seeing Munising and Miner’s Falls, Miner’s Castle, or the Log Slide Overlook. The hike and tour of the Au Sable lighthouse is also worth it for amazing views and even the chance to see shipwrecks. The rocks can be viewed from the water by taking one of several boat or kayaking tours.

11. Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore – Michigan

Michigan has so many miles of scenic coastline along the Great Lakes that you can find a second National Lakeshore here. Sleeping Bear Dunes offers sugar sand beaches, turquoise blue water, and historic sites to explore. Don’t miss a drive on the Pierce Stocking Scenic Drive or exploring the historic Glen Haven Village. This scenic lakeshore is a must-see Midwest National Park site.

Theodore Roosevelt National Park must see Midwest National Park site

12. Theodore Roosevelt National Park – North Dakota

Theodore Roosevelt National Park is stunning park to explore without the big crowds of more well traveled destinations. The park is actually comprised of several different units with the South Unit being the most popular. Here you can see a cabin Roosevelt once lived in, explore a scenic drive, and view bison and wild horses. The park also features dramatic sunrises and sunsets over the unique badlands and prairie landscapes.

Ulysses S Grant National Historic Site

13. Ulysses S Grant National Historic Site – Missouri

The Ulysses S Grant National Historic Site preserves the home where the Union Civil War General and 18th president once lived. You can take a guided tour of the White Haven home, walk the grounds, and explore the large museum. The museum is interactive and has a kids area. Another perk of this historic site is that admission and parking are completely free.

Wind Cave National Park tour

14. Wind Cave National Park

Wind Cave National Park is another wonderful Midwest National Park located in South Dakota. The park preserves intricate cave formations, vast prairie terrain, and diverse wildlife. Admission to the park is free, however there are fees for the cave tours. There are several tour options available, we loved the Natural Entrance tour and found it very kid-friendly. The park also has several hiking trails. The Rankin Ridge Trail offers great views and an old fire tower. (Note: Cave tours will be closed from May 6 through the fall 2024 due to elevator upgrades.)

Wilson's Creek National Battlefield

15. Wilson’s Creek National Battlefield

Wilson’s Creek is the site of the first major Civil War battle west of the Mississippi River. The park site commemorates and interprets the battle that focused national attention on the war in Missouri. The park includes a large visitor center, driving tour road, hiking trails, and historic structures. Our kids enjoyed touring the historic Ray house and hiking along the creek to the Gibson’s Mill site.

More Midwest National Park Sites to Visit

This list showcases just a small sampling of the more than 60 units of the National Park Service in the Midwest. There are many more Midwest National Park sites that have been our list to visit with these three at the top of the list:

  • Isle Royale National Park – Rugged and remote island in Lake Superior of Michigan
  • Voyagers National Park – Another remote park located in far northern Minnesota
  • Cuyahoga National Park – See waterfalls and the historic Ohio & Erie Canal at this Ohio Park

Have you visited any National Park sites in the Midwest? Which site is your favorite?

15 Must-See Midwest National Park Sites

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